The Good Luck Charm Page 49

“For fuck’s sake.” I slam my laptop closed. Obviously this conversation isn’t going to wait. “Are you really sorry, or are you just saying that because you know I’m pissed off?”

That wipes the smile off his face. Maybe he’s finally getting it.

“I’m honestly sorry. I didn’t realize you were so upset about it.” He takes a step back as I push out of my chair, moving around him. “Maybe you could stay at my place when I have home games. That would probably make it easier, right?”

“That’s not going to solve the problem.” I’m edgy now, my frustration having festered all day. “It’s not just you showing up in the middle of the night that I’m upset about, Ethan.”

“What else is it, then?” His fingers graze my wrist and I step out of reach. “Talk to me, Lilah. I don’t like this feeling.”

“I told you last night that I needed sleep and you still showed up. I told you today that I needed time to work on an assignment and you’re here almost an hour early anyway. You can’t just show up and expect me to drop everything for you. I have priorities and obligations that are important, too.”

“I know that.”

“Then why show up early when I asked you not to?”

He jams his hands in his pockets. “Because I knew you were upset with me and I wanted to smooth things over.”

“By doing exactly what I asked you not to.”

“I won’t do it again—show up in the middle of the night like I did or come over early if you ask me not to. I’ll take a step back if that’s what you want.”

I don’t know if he can actually follow through with that, though. Ethan is so driven by compulsion. I fear he’ll tell me what I want to hear to placate me, but when it comes down to it, he won’t be able to give me what I need, and I won’t be able to make him adhere to my boundaries. Unless I force us both to.

My throat is so dry right now, my anxiety spiking just like his. “We need to talk about the interview.”

He blows out a breath. “I’m sorry about that, too. I wasn’t thinking when I kissed you like that. And I didn’t expect all the questions, but maybe I should’ve. Don’t worry about the trade talks. Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out.”

And here he is, glossing over all the issues. Placating as he does. In the past I would let him. But I’m not a teenage girl anymore, and I can’t keep sacrificing myself for him.

I cross over to the couch, dropping down because my legs feel watery. “I think I just need … some space.”

Ethan’s eyes flare and his brow furrows. “Wait, what? Where is this coming from?”

I can’t look at him, unable to see his confusion, which I share, because as the words come out, they’re as much a shock to me as they are to him. “I can’t keep doing this.”

“Can’t keep doing what? This? Us?” He crosses over to sit beside me on the couch.

“That’s not—” I have to pause to gather my thoughts and not backtrack. What I want and need seem to be at such odds with each other. “I don’t want to lose you again, Ethan. It was so painful the first time.” I shake my head. “God, I just … lost myself for such a long time, or got lost in myself. I don’t know. And then you come back into my life and it’s so familiar and easy. I don’t want to be without that again. And that possibility scares me, so I’ve been putting you ahead of me, in front of my own goals and needs. I see how it’s affecting my life, and I don’t like it.”

His anxiety makes his knee shake. “I don’t want you to sacrifice your goals for mine. I promise I’ll back off. I can give you more time to work on your course if that’s what needs to happen.”

“That’s already going to happen when you make playoffs, which is inevitable based on how the team is doing. That’s what you want and exactly what I want for you. But I can’t be responsible for your success any more than you can be responsible for mine.”

He shakes his head as understanding registers. “That’s not what I meant in that interview.”

“I know you guys all get sucked into the superstitions and your rituals, especially around playoff time, but I can’t be a good luck charm. I don’t think you honestly believe I’m the reason you’re doing so well, but even the idea is too much pressure. I can’t be that for you. I don’t want to be that for you.”

Ethan swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing heavily as he searches for a way to rationalize this. “You were the best thing in my life for years, and then you were missing and my career went to shit. Now you’re back in my life and it’s better again. Everything is better with you in it. Don’t take that away now, not when things are finally going well for both of us.”

“That’s the thing, Ethan—they’re not going well for both of us. Things are going well for you.”

“How can you say that? You can’t tell me we aren’t good together.” He gestures between us. “You can’t tell me this isn’t good.”

I wish I didn’t have to say it, but I know I do, and the words cause a physical ache in my chest. “It’s not the us part that I’m talking about.”

“What is it, then? Because if it’s not us, then I don’t get what the problem is.”

“I failed my midterm.”

He blinks a couple of times. “That’s not possible.” His shock is reasonable. I always performed well in school, particularly on tests, which were his weak spot. He’d get anxious and then blank out or choke. “You never fail anything.”

“I did this time.”

“What happened?”

“I’ve been so focused on you, and keeping you in my life, that I’ve stopped considering what I need.” The reality of this breaks my heart. I’ve spent so much time being independent and self-sufficient over the past eight years. And the first time I feel truly needed by the one person I love unconditionally, who left me, I abandon my own dreams for his.

“I’ll give you more time to study. I’ll help you.”

I smile, but I know it’s weak at best. “I’ve never been good at saying no to you, Ethan. And I want to make sure you understand that I’m not saying it’s your fault I failed. That’s on me. I made the choice to put you ahead of me, and this is the consequence. For now I need to focus on this course and my own goals, and you need to focus on getting through the playoffs and having a shot at the Cup. Between work, this course, and us, something has to give.”

Ethan runs a frustrated hand through his hair. “So what does this mean? We’re what? Taking a break?”

Every part of me wants to wrap my arms around him and hold on. It’s not healthy, it’s dangerous, and it’s setting me up for a world of heartbreak I’m not sure I’ll escape anyway. “I have less than a month to get my mark up. If I don’t, I risk not getting into the master’s program at all. Playoffs start soon and Minnesota is going to make it, which means you need all your time and energy channeled into your game.”

Ethan’s eyes are frantic; his fingers tap in distress. “This sounds like a breakup speech, Lilah.”

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